What It Means To Be a Woman

Whatever can be said about our current cultural climate, particularly when it comes to the two sexes, one thing is for certain. The battle lines are becoming ever clearer.

What it means to be a woman, or to be a man, is at the front and center now. The things that used to be the subject of hushed conversations and were only spoken of in subtle undertones in polite society now serve as the focus of our general cultural dialogue.

During last Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, for example, female Democratic senators—clad in white—sat together with the clear intention of making a statement. Though their choice of dress was apparently intended to pay homage to women’s suffrage, that was not the primary message they sent. Instead, a strong and united support for abortion was the loudest and clearest signal coming from our nation’s most visible female leaders.

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It was striking, to watch and consider that this group of women have turned their backs upon what is arguably the pinnacle of being a woman—namely, motherhood. To refuse to publicly condemn late-term abortion and infanticide, well, it doesn’t get much more anti-woman than that. To defend a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason ought to be unthinkable, especially when you’re a woman and theoretically capable of carrying, birthing, and raising a child yourself.

This very public rejection of womanhood—by women, ironically—may ultimately be a good thing. Perhaps now that fewer people are pretending to believe that abortion ought to be a rare albeit necessary reality, the rest of us can address the fact that abortion has become a beloved sacred cow. When women are proclaiming en masse that the right to abortion—right up until the moment of birth no less—is an integral part of being a woman, perhaps we can finally suggest that the modern conceptualization of womanhood is deeply and profoundly impoverished.

To be fruitful, to bring forth life, and to infuse a culture with love are, of course, the true mission of woman. It is a difficult and largely self-sacrificing venture, to be sure; who can deny that the daily grind of chasing cranky toddlers, or parenting equally cranky teens, is exhausting and even sometimes—seemingly, anyhow—thankless? What person would claim that motherhood, which begins with the challenges and discomforts of pregnancy, passes through the pains of labor and birth, and sees love through to the end, is a glamorous and easy existence? The waking-at-night infant, the mouthy teenager, and the young adult struggling to carve out an identity for him- or herself each represents a unique opportunity for a mother to grow in character and virtue, to die to self, and place the needs of her child before her own personal comfort and autonomy.

But though it is challenging, it is also precisely what it means to be woman.

Women are, by any standard, unquestionably strong. We are uniquely positioned to influence, shape, and form society as well as capable of leaving a living, breathing legacy long after we are gone. We may spend decades with our noses to our own respective domestic grindstones, incapable of seeing much else beyond our own doorsteps, but the inevitable and lovely outcome is that we wield a great deal of influence. Yet what we witness so often today is a counterfeit of womanhood as God intended it to be—a grotesquely distorted manifestation of femininity which eschews hearth and home while rushing headlong into the cold embrace of barrenness and death.

This diminished view of womanhood can be seen all around us. It was certainly on display among the “women in white” during Tuesday night’s speech. But as it emerges into the open, revealing itself to be nothing more than an assault upon the very thing it claims to prize—namely, the feminine experience—a stunning contrast becomes equally visible and increasingly important. The embrace of true womanhood in all its natural, complicated, and beautiful glory, which is ultimately an embrace of life, stands as a testament to what women can achieve both for themselves and for the world.

So let us press forward, those of us who want a better way for ourselves and for our children. Let us take up our cross of living out our womanhood in a time and place where things like self-sacrifice and humility, the very things that characterize womanhood, are not encouraged or valued. Let us reject the notion that what we do with our bodies, and the precious beings who may temporarily inhabit our bodies, doesn’t matter.

We are women, after all. We can lead joy-filled, fulfilling lives of tremendous worth, marked by dignity and love, while simultaneously contributing in big and small ways to the culture around us. We do this, however, not through the embrace of death and the rejection of biology, but through the acceptance—and, dare I say, pursuit—of what it means to be a woman, namely, an openness to the inevitable joys and sorrows of life, a careful and deliberate cultivation of life-giving love, and the fierce protection of the most vulnerable among us.

It is at the same time so much more, and yet so much simpler, than the culture’s wholesale reinvention of what it means to be a woman.

Editor’s note: Above, female lawmakers cheer during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019, in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images)


  • Brianna Heldt

    Brianna Heldt is a writer and podcaster. She is a blogger for the National Catholic Register, exploring topics ranging from parenthood and faith to social and cultural issues. Brianna has been a featured guest on a number of radio programs, including BBC Radio. Her personal blog can be found at www.briannaheldt.com. Brianna lives with her husband and nine children in Denver, Colorado.

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